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No Pak army means open skies for drones

world Updated: Jan 18, 2011 23:57 IST

Pakistan’s refusal to attack militants in a sanctuary on its northwest border may have created a magnet there for hundreds of Islamic fighters seeking a safe haven where they can train and organise attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan. But theirs is a congregation in the cross hairs.

A growing number of senior US counterinsurgency officials say that by bunching up there, insurgents are ultimately making it easier for American drone strikes to hit them from afar.

American officials are loath to talk about this silver lining to the storm cloud that they have long described building up in the tribal area of North Waziristan, where the insurgents run a virtual mini-state.

This is because they do not want to undermine the Obama administration’s urgent public pleas for Pakistan to order troops into the area, or to give Pakistan an excuse for inaction.

“We cannot succeed in Afghanistan without shutting down those safe havens,” Adm Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said underscoring a major conclusion of White House’s review of Afghanistan policy last month.

But as long as the safe havens exist, they provide a rich hunting ground, however inadvertent it may be. Pakistani Army operations in the other six of seven tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan have helped drive fighters from al Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban, Haqqani network and other militant groups into North Waziristan, the one tribal area that Pakistan has not yet assaulted.

With hundreds of insurgents bottled up there, and with few worries about accidentally hitting Pakistani soldiers battling militants or fleeing civilians, US drones have attacked targets in North Waziristan with increasing effectiveness and have degraded al Qaeda’s ability to carry out a major attack against the United States.